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This sea shanty is about a young New England man named Andrew from New Bedford, MA (circa 1850), who left his home to see the world and have adventures by joining the crew of a whaling ship. The shanty captures his love of the constant rolling salty sea under his feet and the tight rhythm of working synchronized with his shipmates.
The New England whaling ships of the 1800s were often staffed with young, inexperienced sailors. The success of their voyages depended on a (sober) experienced captain and the ability of the crew to know their roles and to work together quickly and like a well-oiled machine. When that didn't happen, as it sometimes didn't, the whaling ship and its crew might have unintended misadventures, not make a profit (even go into debt) - with many sailors finding themselves abandoned elsewhere in the world (if they even survived).